Safety and security is hardly a new area of focus in the Cherry Creek School District.
That much was clear during an in-depth, sobering presentation led by CCSD Deputy Superintendent Scott Siegfried during the Board of Education's regular meeting held March 12 at Heritage Elementary School in Greenwood Village. During a presentation that spanned more than an hour, Siegfried touched on all aspects of safety and security policy in the district; he detailed current practices, summarized historical upgrades and reviewed other elements of Cherry Creek Schools' comprehensive policy.
As Siegfried pointed out at the beginning of the evening, it wasn't the first time he'd come before the board to cover the subject. The presentation came nearly a month after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that claimed 17 victims. It wasn't the first time a senseless loss of life spurred a sobering conversation about safety.
"This is the fifth time I've stood before the board and given a presentation after a tragedy," Siegfried said, pointing to similar conversations after incidents at Sandy Hook Elementary, Arapahoe High School, Platte Canyon High School and the Century movie theater in Aurora. All of this work built on action originally taken in the wake of the tragedy at Columbine High School. "We have always looked at what we can do differently. We have a continuous process of improvement."
The presentation delved into the evolution of the district's policies over more than a decade, and the stress on constant re-evaluation and reassessment arose again and again. The historical approach showed just how much the district's approach to security is ever-evolving, and just how much its crew of trained and experienced specialists work constantly to improve and expand safety measures for the entire community.
This work includes regular rounds of coordinated emergency drills in buildings across the district; it integrates input and aid from police departments, sheriff's offices and fire departments from multiple municipalities. Mental health is also a key part of the approach, as is the assumption that the status quo is never acceptable.
Before the beginning of the current school year, district leaders worked closely with the local law enforcement representatives and safety specialists on the district's Standard Response Protocol Group to implement new policies to supplement an already thorough safety and security policy.
"We focus both on physical and psychological safety at CCSD," Siegfried said earlier this year. "Safety is our number-one priority. If students and staff aren't physically and psychologically safe, we can't expect them to focus on learning."
The new steps include creating a common numbering system for doors and parking lots and installing dedicated police "Knox Boxes" and lockers at every building. The "Knox Boxes" are located on the outside of the building and include keys, maps and other resources for law enforcement officials responding to an emergency. What's more, the district conducted multiple training exercises with law enforcement officials, including simulations on school buses and in district buildings.
Siegfried's latest safety presentation highlighted further steps to come, measures that could include the addition of more School Resource Officers (SROs), adding buzzer systems to middle schools, implementing the use of badges for students and staff and working closely with law enforcement to take on a more significant role in site security. These measures would come along with creating a culture of safety for everyone in the Cherry Creek School District community.
These suggestions didn't come in a vacuum. Siegfried introduced the discussion as a "community conversation," and the presentation included input from Colorado State Rep. Cole Wist and Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher.
"We have all become accustomed to violence in our society – it is unacceptable. We've become accustomed in this country to mass shootings, to shootings in what should be the most sacred safe place," Wist said. "I stand ready as a legislator to work with each and every one of you. If it's a matter of resources, please ask. If it's a matter of legislation, ask," he added, before encouraging constructive conversations and resisting the urge to play "the blame game." "I invite you to engage with me in this process."
Walcher also spoke of a pressing need to create change, and pointed to direct steps like adding SROs to schools across Arapahoe County. He praised CCSD's historic commitment a dynamic and evolving approach to safety and security.
"In watching Dr. Siegfried's presentation, I can't help but be incredibly impressed … I don't think you'll find a school district in this nation that's taken this more seriously," Walcher said. "But we cannot rest on what we've done. We have to do even better."
CCSD Superintendent Harry Bull also spoke to the need of a broader conversation in the community and the nation regarding gun violence, mental health and school safety.
"We can't do it alone. There needs to be a broader conversation. We need as a country and as a state to talk about guns and mental health. I am not shaping the direction of the conversation. I am just saying that it needs to be a real conversation," Bull said. "It can't be a polarizing conversation … Our children need us now more than ever. They deserve better. They are watching us and they are hoping that this time, we will get it right."
PLEASE SEE ATTACHED PDF FOR THE FULL PRESENTATION ON CCSD'S EVOLVING APPROACH TO SAFETY AND SECURITY.
Safety March 2018.pdf